BackgrounD - The village
The present-day village of Penbontrhydyfothau (literally, 'head of the bridge by the ford over the Fothau') came into being when the bridge fording the stream was built. (This bridge was listed by CADW a few years after Glan yr afon). The date of construction of this bridge is relevant because the cottage existed before the bridge was built. The precise date must be somewhere in the public records but the local view is that it is Georgian or earlier. There is apparently a date marker on the bridge (although we haven’t found it yet) of 1766.
There is no doubt that while a quiet backwater now, the land on which Glan yr afon sits was once an important natural vantage point, not to mention a river crossing point and defensive area. Excavations on the site have suggested early inhabitation, perhaps in the bronze age. The natural slope of the site lent itself well to defensive fortifications, and there is evidence that this was used for a primitive 'castle'. Certainly the building (now ruined) in the grounds of the cottage has always been known as Bwthin Castell (‘Castle Cottage’), and there are the remains of a roman fort on the headland just to the west of Glan yr afon (marked on OS maps - You pass below it on the walk from the cottage to Cwmtydu).
THE DROVERS' ROAD
It is a matter of record that the road next to the cottage was a drovers’ road, and it is said that along it Owain Glyndwr and his men marched north in retreat from the forces of the crown.
As a drovers’ road there would have been movement of cattle and sheep to the markets, mainly at Cardigan, but also at New Quay, and from there by coastal shipping to the major centres - perhaps Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Bristol.
In the context of the movement of livestock, the need for water and rest are important if stock are to arrive at their destination in good condition. 'Our location' provided both water, and pasture on the downstream side of the road, and the conditions were therefore in place to establish facilities for the needs of the traffic.
‘THE INN At RHYDVOTHE’
We know from the records that an inn existed here in 1613. The historical record of the existence of an inn here is contained in the transcript of a court case held at the inn in 1613:
‘repaire and Come to the house of David Robte als Cooke situate being at Rhydvothe.’
‘House’ in Elizabethan times meant Public House. Now, it is a matter of record that it was common practice to hold Leat courts in public houses. It appears they travelled a circuit, holding court on regular basis in rural areas and of course lodgings in the same public house.
Most of the dwellings that made up the village of Rhydfothau are not eligible as candidates because of their size and location. Glan yr afon is the only property with adjoining pasture and stream frontage and the building is situated on the roadside at the point where traffic would ford the stream. Glan yr afon itself provides evidence of activity which would not be appropriate to the lifestyle of a cottager or country peasant.
Glan yr Afon, as it exists in the present day, is one residence developed from what were originally two separate cottages. One is a very early simple four walled structure and the other is a more sophisticated type with a loft sleeping area reached by ladder. Both were equipped with wattle and clay canopy fireplace hoods, with the smoke going out through a hole in the roof.
The cottage with the original loft (now the kitchen/second bedroom) was almost certainly built at a later date - not only because of its design, but also because it was built over a primitive drain, which served the other cottage by taking away surface water and removing pressure from the water table, which is about eighteen inches below ground level. By this means the original cottage was kept in a reasonably dry state with minimum of problem from rising damp. The drain served both gable ends and the rear of the cottage and since the cottage with the loft was built on top of the drain and indeed the walls incorporate a bridge to accommodate it, logic suggests the loft cottage was built later.
The building developed out of the need to cater to an increased number of people - In other words it had become an inn or ‘house’. If indeed Glan yr afon was an inn, then where did the ale come from?
It is this point that we have to look at the ruins of a third cottage in the grounds. This building was a domestic residence in the mid 1800s, and even in the early 1990s, a then elderly resident of the village knew an old lady who was born in the cottage around the 1850s.
Then previous owner of Glan yr Afon was able to excavate the ruins of this cottage and found that it was originally a much smaller building, which had been extended in the direction of the stream (i.e. southwards), the northern section being narrower and much older.
The western wall of this older section incorporated a very wide doorway (about 5ft) which must have been walled up when the building was extended to become dwelling. Inside the northern section was a primitive stone stairway which must have given access to loft area, against the northern gable end alongside the stairway was evidence of a fireplace area. The walled-up doorway on the western wall gave access to a ‘stoop’ or patio type area, which vas semi-circular. Although the scale was much smaller, one cannot fail to be struck by the similarity of design to the old church brew house at Cenarth. One may come to the conclusion that this third cottage started life as the brew house for Glan yr afon. The building was built into the bank, which enabled materials to be delivered into the loft area of the building with a minimum of effort.
THE INN - EVIDENCE
According to the same elderly resident of the hamlet in the early 1990s, there were, certainly until the 1980s, hop vines in the garden of Glan yr afon. Indeed upon doing excavations at the rear of the property when the cottage was first ‘rescued’, a tool used to tap casks was found. The other piece of evidence is the copious quantity of broken pottery scattered around the property, sme of which is still turning up! There is a box of these fragments, some dating from the 17th century, in the garden. These fragments were all of the primitive earthenware type, with a dark brown glaze on the inside. The sizes of vessel varied but for the most part were round, without any pouring lip (as with a jug) and roughly speaking held about two pints, perhaps a bit less. One or two pots were much larger and thicker pottery and probably used for food. If the assumption is correct one can go further and say that whilst we have evidence of use as the site of a court case in 1613, it seems that the building was functioning as an inn long before that time - The question is how long?
One could take a guess and say 50-100 years, but we have no real way of knowing. All we do know Is that before Glan yr afon became an inn it was two separate cottages, one of which was a lot older than the other. It is therefore a matter of speculation as to the exact age of Glan yr afon as a group of buildings, (and it is anybody’s guess), but it could certainly be before the 1500s.
Above you will have noticed an excerpt from an old map of 1763. This map shows the local geography in a primitive form indicating various features. One of these features is ‘tucking (or felting) mill’ located on the Fothau. Excavations by the previous owner in 1992, along the stream at Glan yr afon revealed a primitive leet, which went to a corner of the property, on the downstream end. His notes continue:
“In this corner I found the remains of a building - Lots of stone and a piece of wood with the remains of some slates. Given the nature of the activities in Rhydfothau related to wool, it would be reasonable to assume that what I had found was indeed the remains of the tucking mill. There are no other possible sites on the Fothau, which is a relatively short stretch of water. I believe that Rhydfothau has been a site of human habitation from very early primitive times. In general terms the area has a number of ancient sites and there is a Roman Fort about a mile away. In my excavations for the garden pond I came across a primitive hearth with lots of orange discolouration to the surrounding soil. It would take someone with more knowledge and experience than I have to be able to say with authority what went on in the area, but I like to think that people have always been there.”
The coming of the railways to the Teifi Valley brought an end to the traditional movement of livestock, and with it came the demise of the 'inn at Rhydvothe'.
The building of the bridge brought with it changes which no doubt justified the building of The Crown Inn at Llwyndafydd in 1799, and it is highly likely that by then Glan yr Afon had ceased to function as an inn - Although we have no way of knowing.
19th Century to 1990
By tracing records, we know that the property belonged for over 150 years to several generations of weavers. These (almost destitute) families, would keep one hand loom in the house, where they would earn their keep by weaving cloth for larger mills. Certainly, at the turn of the 20th century the buildings housed a weaver’s family and loom. The cottage was then abandoned, possibly in the 1950s, and was in a sad state of repair when 'found' by the previous owners, The Grimmetts, in the late 1980s.
They fell in love with the dilapidated cottage and decided to rescue it. A program of works to make the cottage habitable was undertaken, using the original materials, and repairing rather than replacing wherever possible. Sadly, the original roof structure was considered too weak to support the replacement thatched roof, and so a protective structure now supports the weight, although all the original structure may be seen internally, including the primitive hazel and beech branches used as roof supports.
THE PRESENT DAY
We had loved the area for a long time, having many friends living nearby, and spending as much time as possible in this part of Ceredigion. 'Word on the grapevine' told us that the house was about to be sold for the first time in 25 years, and having passed by the cottage on numerous occasions and fallen in love with it 'in our heads', we decided that we could and should take on a 'labour of love' and add to the cottage's long history!
Although the house had been renovated and made habitable 30 years ago, it needed some urgent works to bring it up to acceptable modern safety standards, and some gentle renovation and improvement (especially to drainage and insulation) was seen to be beneficial. We therefore set to to enhance the renovations already completed, whilst thoroughly updating where necessary (completely re-wiring and re-plumbing), re-rendering in lime render, adding new storm water drainage around the house (in an attempt to keep the site as dry as possible - Always an uphill struggle in Wales!).
Throughout these renovations, the aim was always to respect the history and tradition of the building, and to use traditional methods and materials where possible. But, we're not averse to using modern solutions where these are complementary and sensitive. For instance, the house is now limewashed externally in Graphenstone, an extremely up-to-the-minute combination of traditional limewash and graphene fibres, giving the traditional looks and breathability of lime wash, but greatly enhanced durability. Meanwhile, the roof void is insulated with a thick sheep's wool 'blanket', a relatively new 'eco' product, which insulates amazingly, breathes, does not retain water, and is good for the environment, with no nasty VOCs.
The renovations took the best part of a year, and once completed, we set about making the interior of the cottage a welcoming place for us and our guests to stay, without losing the uniquely historic nature of the open roof structure, huge traditional wattle and daub fire hood, rough lime washed walls, and of course the traditional crog loft. The 100 year old+ quarry tile and stone floors have been preserved, as well as the crude wooden lintels and door openings. But the house is now dry, warm (in winter) and a comfortable place to contemplate life and 'get away from it all'.
We love this place, and its' history. We hope to see you at Glan yr Afon, to add to that history!